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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 15, 2003 - Issue 100


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Teacher, Tribe Strives to Keep Students in School

by Erica Warren North Country Times
credits: Photo by Waldo Nilo

Teacher Greg Fleming helps a studentPALA ---- Four faces hovered over literature books Monday in surroundings seemingly too quiet for a high school class.

The students said the quiet at the Pala Learning Center on the Pala Indian Reservation helps them make up credits they fell behind on while attending Fallbrook High School.

Teacher Greg Fleming and the Pala Band of Mission Indians are now in their sixth year of providing high school education on the reservation through the Fallbrook Union High School District.

Junior Bridget Eagelton, 16, said she used to attend Fallbrook High nearly every day, but her social life got in the way of learning. The other three students also said they previously attended Fallbrook High, but experienced an array of difficulties.

"I just didn't do my homework," Bridget said Monday after reading an excerpt from the screenplay, "A Raisin in the Sun." "It's kinda nice here. I'm not sure if I'll go back to the high school."

Bridget started at the center last year after her mom took her out of Fallbrook High.

"(The teacher) being able to answer all my questions helped me learn more here than I ever did at high school," she said, adding she does miss some things. "My best friend is there and we want to have our senior year together. But I'm not sure what I'll do."

Since its inception, 45 students have graduated from the program under the auspices of the district's alternative Ivy High School. Classes are taught at the Pala Learning Center, which provides a library to the community with tutorial services, along with a computer lab, and houses the tribe's educational offices.

Eleven students are now enrolled in the program, but only four attended school on Monday. Fleming said today's Veterans Day holiday may have accounted for the low turnout since all his students attended class last week.

"These are my dedicated students," Fleming said. Two students looked up and smiled; the other two smiled while continuing to read.

The district pays the salary for the teacher and supplied some computers in the library. It also provides $80 per student for classroom supplies, a district official said. The tribe pays for the facilities and utilities, some supplies, and educational equipment such as a TV.

This year, the Pala students moved from a class inside the center to a modern $100,000 relocatable building complete with bathrooms, paid for with a grant.

"This is a really nice classroom," said Fleming, formerly a Spanish teacher at the high school.

Doretta Musick of the La Jolla Band of Mission Indians directs the tribe's education programs. She said opening the Pala Casino in 2001 made a stipend available to high school graduates only.

"And I said, 'Thank you,' " she said. "That at least encourages them to finish high school."

The casino also provides full college scholarships for tribal members provided the students stay in good standing. Musick said she has 40 such scholarship applications now in hand, about twice the number she received last year.

"I'm glad to see Indian people wanting to pursue higher education," she said. "Some get that per capita (annual payments made to tribal members) and their dreams go out the window."

The incentives and comfortable surroundings of the center don't eliminate all the problems tribal students face. Fleming says he works hard to keep the kids coming to school, but some simply disappear.

"I'm supposed to focus on the ones that show up," he said. "You've got some successes and I focus on that."

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